Tuesday 21 November 2017

Conjuring up a real-life fright - Patrick Wilson on his latest role

1970s-style scares, Elvis impersonations and demon nuns, Patrick Wilson talks about his role as real life ghost-hunter in The Conjuring 2

Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga in 'The Conjuring 2'.
Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga in 'The Conjuring 2'.

Anne Marie Scanlon

Patrick Wilson, star of The Conjuring 2, has no connections to Ireland. "I wish I did," he tells me, before going on to say that his wife, actress and author Dagmara Dominczyk "loves Ireland and has a great fondness for the Irish accent. Don't talk to Liam, or Colin Farrell please," the actor laughs while miming steering his wife away.

Although Wilson has never worked with Farrell he holds him in very high regard. "He's actually a great guy, a very very sweet guy."

The Conjuring 2 is Wilson's second outing as real-life ghost-hunter Ed Warren who, along with his wife Lorraine, investigated several thousand cases of alleged paranormal activity, including the Perron haunting in Rhode Island (which formed the basis for The Conjuring), Amityville and the Enfield Haunting - which The Conjuring 2 is based on.

The Enfield Haunting (so called because events took place in a council house in Enfield, London) was rather infamous at the time, 1977-79, and attracted a lot of media attention. To this day, paranormal investigators are still arguing about whether or not 11-year-old Janet Hodgson was 'haunted' by a poltergeist or if it was all a hoax.

Having been a toddler in the US at the time, it's hardly surprising that Wilson wasn't totally au fait with the case. "I'd seen a couple of the famous pictures, I didn't do a ton of research - I like to know what I need to know, otherwise it can be a little bit overwhelming."

The movie, and I'm not giving anything away here, comes down very firmly on the side of belief. I wonder if Wilson has had any experience of the supernatural? "I believe there's another force at play, its like religion, it's what you make of it. If you are the type of person who is never going to see a ghost, then you are not going to see a ghost." His own experiences are mild; the actor tells me that the previous week he thought about an old friend who he hadn't seen or spoken to in 15 years. "Two different things brought her to mind," he says. "I hadn't spoken to her in forever and the very next day she emails me. That's enough for me to go "OK, there's 'unexplained' out there," that's how I 'justify' the paranormal world".

To be honest, I was hoping for something a bit juicier. After all, director James Wan didn't let production begin until he'd had the soundstage in California, the cast and the crew blessed by a church-sanctioned exorcist Fr. Steven Sanchez. Wan felt compelled to take these precautions after The Conjuring was allegedly beset by strange occurrences.

"James pushes the genre," Wilson says of Wan, whom he also worked with on Insidious. "All of those stereotypes you see in horror films, nine times out of ten we don't use those." The Conjuring 2, apart from being set in the 1970s, which Wan captures in all its yellowy-brown awfulness, is very much a return to the decade's classic horror style (The Exorcist, The Amityville Horror).

Wilson agrees, "you don't want to make just a scary film or just a gruesome film. What sets The Conjuring series apart from other horror movies is, when you think about those classic movies, you don't think of them necessarily as 'horror' movies. The Shining is a great film. You think of it as a great film but not necessarily as a 'horror' film."

The actor goes on to explain why Wan is so successful at scaring audiences. "James likes to create a real world, with real characters, there's a little romance in there … you care about these people."

On the whole, the real-life Lorraine was very pleased with Wilson's portrayal of her late husband. "It makes her smile," he says. "Above anything we're (he and Vera Farmiga who plays Lorraine) treating them (the Warrens) with respect. And I think that's kind of all they wanted. They didn't want it to be goofy or silly. We've got the same passion that they had. And that's our job." Wilson likes the challenge of playing a real person, and says that, in many ways, it's easier. "There are things to latch on to," he tells me. "It's an easier way in. How do I create this guy? Well, let's start with the real guy and then we'll go from there."

The real life Hodgson sisters (now in their 50s) came to the filming and "Janet still wears it, she still lives with this," Wilson says. "She still can't talk about it without getting very passionate and emotional." "This is someone's life," Wilson continues. "We're making a film, not a documentary." But having seen the sisters reunited with the real life Lorraine, for the first time since the events described in the film, Wilson says "there is a real core to this story and I saw it there. It's real." He is referring to the emotions and relationships.

Wilson didn't always want to act. "My Dad is a TV anchor and I grew up watching him and being on TV was something that always seemed cool. I didn't really know what I wanted. I thought, 'maybe a doctor… maybe a sports medicine doctor, because I like sports.'" He pauses to laugh at his childish self before telling me that at 15 he decided that he was going to become an actor. After high school, Wilson studied drama at Carnegie Mellon University and after graduating was rarely out of work, appearing mostly in Broadway shows.

Inspired by his leading man's background, James Wan added a scene where Ed is required to sing. The Hodgsons' dad has disappeared, taking his Elvis records with him, and Ed Warren, while not battling demons, makes himself useful by doing odd jobs around the house. When he hears about the four children missing their father's record collection, he whips out his guitar and sings a number as Elvis.

It sounds incredibly cheesy but within the narrative of the film it works. "I only recorded it once," Wilson says, "because we didn't want it to be a case of suddenly Ed is this amazing singer." Wilson himself is a huge fan of "the King," as is his wife. "Elvis was her first crush," he says, "It broke her heart when she found out he was dead!" His Polish wife is Catholic, which leads us to discuss the 'demon', a ridiculously terrifying nun. I warn Wilson that Irish audiences may be harder to frighten, as we all had a nun like that at school. He roars laughing and says, "Oh wait till I tell my wife that, she will certainly get that!"

The Conjuring 2 in cinemas nationwide from tomorrow

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